Saturday, Oct 08, 2022

The Contested Legacy Of Bal Thackeray

A divided family in pursuit of Hindutva adds another tussle to Maharashtra politics.

Shiv Sena flag.
Shiv Sena flag. Getty Images

A few weeks ago, emerging from his political slumber, Raj Thackeray vociferously spoke against the use of loudspeakers by mosques for their prayers during the day. He spoke about how the loud noise from early morning prayers affected people’s health. But if he thought that his aggressive Hindutva agenda would push his cousin and the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray into a corner, it did not deliver the expected results. Many felt that Uddhav had played a smart move by referring the issue to Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil of the NCP.

Raj upped the ante with his ultimatum on bringing down the loudspeakers from mosques and the recital of Hanuman Chalisa in front of them. “But Uddhav ji played it smart. The Home Minister referred to the Supreme Court judgement on the issue,” said a senior Shiv Sena leader. This was part of a war between the MNS and the Shiv Sena wherein each claimed to be the sole custodian of Bal Thackeray’s Hindutva legacy.

Amid this tussle, Aaditya Thackeray visited Ayodhya last week. The Maharashtra minister for Environment and Forests and son of chief minister Uddhav Thackeray performed Vedic rituals on the banks of the Saryu river. He also visited Ram Janmabhoomi and paid obeisance to the presiding deity. 
His visit to the temple town is significant as his party painstakingly pointed out that it was “purely a religious” trip. Though the Shiv Sainiks ensured that this visit made a lot of noise, many feel that neither Uddhav nor Aaditya can be the poster boys for the Shiv Sena’s grand Hindutva revival plan. The CM who also heads the Shiv Sena is seen by his partymen as a moderate who believes that all religions must co-exist. Significantly, his father Bal Thackeray was the loudest proponent of Hindutva.

Pitted against his uncle Raj Thackeray, who is aggressively pursuing the Hindutva legacy of Shiv Sena’s founder Bal Thackeray, Aaditya’s Ayodhya visit is an attempt to hold on to the Hindutva plank as well as a message to his partymen that they have not abandoned the saffron agenda. Since the formation of the tripartite Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) in Maharashtra with the Shiv Sena in a ruling coalition with ideological opposites, the Congress and the NCP, Uddhav has been accused by the BJP of abandoning its Hindutva stance. 

But does it bring political dividends to Raj? Perhaps not, say many who have closely followed his politics. Given long spells of inaction and sporadic outbursts, Raj has lost the confidence of an electorate which once believed he could deliver. Even the MNS members are reluctant participants in his latest pursuit of Bal Thackeray’s legacy.

For Uddhav and Aaditya, the Hindutva issue seems central to holding on to Shiv Sainiks who are getting disillusioned with their party losing its bark. “I joined the party because of its Hindutva agenda. The Shiv Sena should not be the ruling party as it has lost its aggression,” said Ganesh Phadke, a shakha pramukh of the Shiv Sena from Pune.  “We are a peoples’ party speaking their language and not that of the rulers,” he told Outlook. “We are Shiv Sainiks. We will never desert the party but we also need Uddhav ji to take a strong stand on Hindutva,” said Rambhau Parikh, a former shahar pramukh of the party. A majority of the party’s old-timers told Outlook that despite Raj trying to position himself as the true heir to Bal Thackeray, it will be difficult to draw Shiv Sainiks to the MNS. “The MNS workers are keen on joining the Shiv Sena as they know that Raj saheb cannot deliver power to them,” said Parikh who has fond memories of Raj’s visits to Pune with his uncle.

While Uddhav-Aaditya and Raj are fighting to remain close to the Hindutva issue, party workers on both sides have become cautious. “The MNS is born from the Shiv Sena, so we are all Shiv Sainiks. We are all friends at the shakha level,” said Ashutosh Mokashi, a former office-bearer of the Shiv Sena. “This is a fight between brothers who may join hands later. So, neither the Sainiks nor the MNS workers want to be enemies with each other at this point,” said Mokashi.

Massive gathering of Shiv Sena workers and supporters during the party's rally.
Massive gathering of Shiv Sena workers and supporters during the party's rally addressed by Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray at MMRDA Grounds, Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC), on May 14, 2022 in Mumbai, India Getty Images